I see dozens of 40-year-olds in my eye surgery practice every week. Half of them are interested in having Lasik so they can throw away their glasses. The other half have brought in their aging parents, seeking a cure for their failing eyesight.
Almost always my exam confirms that the parents have the start of central vision loss caused by macular degeneration.
Ideally, treatment should have started when they were the age of the children who now drive them to my office.
I can do a lot more for the 40-year-old child than I can for the parent.
In fact, preventing AMD starts even earlier, with a lifetime of good health habits.
What is AMD?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative condition of the macula or central retina, where the central vision is focused.
It doesn't cause total blindness, because peripheral vision isn't affected. But the loss of central vision can make reading, watching TV or driving impossible.
It is the most common cause of central vision loss in the Western world in adults over 50. It most commonly affects whites, especially females with blue eyes. It is uncommon in African-Americans and Hispanics with brown eyes.
It affects about 15 percent of the population by age 55 and more than 30 percent by age 75. Almost 10 million Americans have the condition.
What can be done?
Early diagnosis is critical to preventing further damage, one reason that everyone over 40 should have an eye exam.
There are two varieties of AMD: dry and wet, in which vessels leak blood. In some cases of wet macular degeneration, laser surgery can seal leaking or bleeding vessels, but this only prevents further damage. It doesn't restore lost vision.
New medicines are having dramatic results in reversing and stopping this bleeding and even restoring sight — but only when taken early enough.
How can I prevent AMD?
Genetics, race, gender and age are all contributing factors you can't control. But nutrition, sunlight exposure and especially smoking are all well within your control.
Here are three tips to prevent blindness — and improve your overall health, too.
1. Up your antioxidants. There is a strong link between nutrition and AMD. Daily doses of Vitamin C (500 mg), Vitamin E (400 iu), beta-carotene (5,000 iu), lutein (2-10 mg), and zinc (up to 80 mg), selenium and manganese may help. Diets rich in antioxidants, especially Omega-3 oils, fish, olive oil, green leafy vegetables and fruits, will help protect the eyes — as well as the rest of the body.
2. Block that sun. Scientific evidence has proven the same ultraviolet rays that damage your skin also accelerate macular degeneration and cataracts. Everyone in Florida should wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVB rays (just remember: "B" stands for bad). The lens color, darkness, polarizing and cost don't matter.
3. Kick the habit. We all know what smoking does to the lungs. But it's a leading cause of macular degeneration and blindness, too.
Of course, there are people who do everything right and still get macular degeneration. But since these steps have been proven to improve your odds of living a longer, healthier life with better vision, why wouldn't you take them?
Mark A. Sibley, M.D., F.A.C.S., of the Florida Eye Center in St. Petersburg, is a board-certified eye surgeon and team eye doctor for the Tampa Bay Rays. Contact him at (727) 895-2020 or through www.floridaeyecenter.com.